Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

In many respects, the Clinton administration has broken with cold war traditions in its policy toward North Korea. The decision to create the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to help rebuild the energy capacity of a declared adversary--through the Agreed Framework--was an extraordinary act of trust building. In addition, the administration has been generous with its foreign aid. In 1999, for instance, the U.S. provided 53% of the $380 million in international aid for North Korea.

Despite these generous gestures, Clinton administration policy has been flawed and contradictory. It has employed economic carrots and military sticks in an attempt to coax and threaten North Korea into being cooperative. This asymmetric approach has alleviated short-term suffering in North Korea, but it has also contributed to escalating military tensions in the region.

Even the economic carrots have not been without blemishes. For instance, as Clinton administration insiders admit, the decision to create KEDO was based on an expectation that the North Korean government would collapse before the nuclear plants come on line. And indeed, due to a mixture of internal politics and a failure of strong leadership, construction of the plants has been delayed by several years. Such delays have not inspired North Korean confidence in the U.S. ability to abide by agreements.

The more critical failure has occurred around economic sanctions. After the September 1999 meetings, the Clinton administration formulated new regulations that would permit most bilateral trade. Nine months later, the administration had not yet implemented the new regulations (but recently promised to do so by June 25). Washington has also not removed North Korea from the so-called terrorism list. According to the U.S. government itself, North Korea has not initiated terrorist activities since 1987, the year before the list was established. North Korea has agreed to all U.S. demands on this issue, except for the repatriation of Red Army members responsible for hijacking a Japanese airliner in 1970. Yet this issue properly pertains to Japanese-North Korean relations. Washington's delays on sanctions are a disturbing indication that the U.S. responds more to North Korea's aggressive acts than to its peaceful overtures.

Although these failures to follow through on economic promises are disappointing, the continued use of military sticks may prove in the long run to be the more damaging aspect of U.S. policy. For Clinton's entire tenure, the U.S. has refused to consider altering its military posture in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. military continues to hold costly joint exercises with its allies in the region, has concluded a new basing arrangement with the Philippines, and has developed a new military plan that endorses a preemptive strike against North Korea. The administration is forging ahead on Theater Missile Defense (TMD), the regional "Star Wars," which enrages not only North Korea but China and Russia as well. From Pyongyang's point of view, Washington is raising the military stakes in the region, so that even the relatively benign tripartite coordination of policy with Japan and South Korea resembles encirclement, not consensus building. …

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